Friday, 25 May 2012

An unexpected event

Katrina and I had settled down for a lazy weekend with a plan to go and see a museum, our first since arrival. But it was not to be.  As we finished the dishes I got a phone call from the boss saying "have you got anything planned for today?

The long and the short of it was that the Police Clubs cabin cruiser and crew had been booked for the day, did I want to go along for the ride?  Hmm lets see around 40 degrees onshore with a reasonable amount of humidity, no brainer really. We'd be at sea for about two hours he said.  (Turned out to be six).

It turns out that the Police Club maintains the boat and on weekends it is available for use by any of the Directorates. It comes stocked with crew, food and drinks.

So we jump in the car and drive the 50 or so K's to the Mina Sultan Qaboos (Sultan Qaboos Port) in old town Muscat. When we got there the guys said, well did Katrina want to come too, a one second consideration later - yes!  There were around 15 adults plus four young lads coming along for a bit of an adventure with dad.

Dress casual I was told, so I went along thinking they'd be in the dishdasha traditional hat.  Not a bit of it shorts and t shirts all the way. And a very merry crew they were at that.  So we set sail for our three hour cruise - Hmm that didn't end well for the Minnow!.

We skirted the coast passing the hill forts that guard the entrance to the original Muscat Harbour. They were built by the Portuguese when they invaded and tried to take Oman over.  Ultimately they failed, but as a result there are now coastal fortifications in differing states of repair. The three along old Muscat are all still in use, and although one is a museum it is not open to the public.  Used to entertain dignitaries and the like.

Further down the coast we passed the Al Bustan Palace hotel - a truly stunning hotel - and the Shangri La resort, which is well named.

We entered an inlet that was dotted with small islands and pulled into a small cove. Anchors aweigh and into the water. Almost everybody got wet. But unfortunately I hadn't brought my bathers! It duly got too much and so trouser clad David joined in the fun. Despite the heat in the desert and their history as a seafaring nation I was surprised by how many of these guys were not particularly confident in the water.
While we were all splashing about Katrina spotted a turtle passing by....  The crew told me this area has turtles everyday and that we were unlucky to only see one.
 Katrina was feted by the crew and the guys. The crew took to calling her Madam and made sure she had whatever she wanted. Katrina also got first go at the food, when lunch came out after we'd finished fooling about in the water.   And then all too soon it was time to up anchor and head back. The trip back was a bit rough as we went much further out to sea and there was a decent swell running.  Cheers and laughs all round as people lost their footing or in one case gave himself a hot tea shower!
 We made a slight detour on the way back, pulling into the old central harbour. I had said it would be nice to get some seaside photo's of the forts and Palace, so they turned the boat into the harbour and I shot up to the fly bridge with my camera.  Katrina told me today that the whole time we were in the Harbour the boat crew were in radio contact, presumably allaying the fears of the guys with the big guns in the forts. You can see one of the forts on the right here and that white building with the blue and gold highlights is the Sultan's ceremonial palace.  Lots of the guys wanted their photo's taken with the Palace and forts in the background, as I guess this was literally a once in a lifetime opportunity. And then it was back to sea and shortly thereafter into the Port - And yes the two boats in the bottom photo are operating coastal trading ships.   All in all a great day out, which we than finished off with dinner at a Mexican restaurant, but that's another story!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Location? Location? Location?

Why the title.  Well this is something that's been floating around the back of my mind since we arrived.  What with all the excitement of the move and so on. At first it was really difficult to work out what was a nice area or not. All the visual cues we have built in as to what makes a nice area in Australia are gone.  Everything has a dusty overtone and instead of lawn there are rocks and dust.

So when you drive around an area there is a patina that covers the houses and much of the streetscape.  Of course when you hit the high end suburbs, or the real low end you can tell immediately.  But it's that mid range where it becomes hard to tell. The clues really are the cars on the street Toyota vs Lexus. The fact that there is a rubble strew block next door means nothing.

Omani houses tend to the large size and they all have sizeable walls around the outside. So as you walk around you see walls mostly at head height or above and then cars parked along the street.  Houses themselves tend to flat roofs, with very thick walls and vertical walls.  A bit boxlike, but then jazzed up with entrances and the like and in some cases use of colour, which to our eyes can be a little jarring. The colour can be used as accents around windows for example, or over the whole house.  I've seen a few pink houses, lemon and other colours that I would call unexpected.

Today is Friday, the second day of the weekend. So back to work tomorrow. After a weekend of two parts. A rather hectic Thursday running around and today we have the Curtain men around installing our curtains. Finally the house will be that much more private!

Muscat is an interesting town. It's in a very narrow band of coastal plain before the beginning of the hills.  As a result it is  Looooong! For example we live in Al-Hail and our language lessons are in Wuttayah, that's a 40k+ one way trip. Fortunately there is a main route through the centre and an expressway out the back.  So getting there is relatively quick.

Coming back however is another story! By the time our lessons are over it's Omani driving time. Apparenty one of the things Omani's do to socialise is go for a drive in the evening. And the standard of driving here is not high.  But we all seem to get by...

The streetscape is interesting. It's quite busy when I leave for work around 0630.  That's roughly the morning peak and there are people everywhere. Indians and Pakistani's walking and on pushbikes, or queuing to be picked up by the work bus. Omani kids clustered on corners or outfront of their houses waiting for the school bus to come get them.  And lots of private buses scurrying around on their appointed tasks. School, construction.......

Then in the afternoon when I come home from work the road is busy with cars but the shops lining the roads are closed and deserted.  Many things shut down here to escape the afternoon heat and as it heats up here fewer and fewer of the small shops remain open through the afternoon.

And around four everything starts to open up again. Until at nightfall and on into the late hours the streets and shopping areas are packed with people going about their business.  Especially on Thursday and Friday evenings.  The coffee shops become packed and here and there Omani men cluster to talk or play cards on a blanket someone has laid out.

The shops and restuarants light up. Bright colours festoon them, lots of Green, pink, red and blue. Strip lights are very popular. One of the major supermarkets (Lu Lu) has about the most garish in green and violet lighting across their facade. Very distinctive and gives the place a festive air.

Katrina and I have both joined gym's now and I had my first workout in months yesterday.  Hmmm there's a bit to do! My waist was deciding to head south and the two flights of stairs up to my office causing the odd pant. Katrina was rather unimpressed with her weight, while I was bemused by mine.  She had put on weight, while I had put on girth and lost weight.  Spose I'd better never be in line for a slot on biggest loser!

Why join a gym? Well it's the end of spring here and we are heading into summer. Things are starting to warm up, in the past week the temperature has started to hit forty. They tell me that in the next months the temperature will continue to climb until most days are in the high forties and the overnight low not a whole bunch lower. The summer peaks will be in the low fifties!  From here on in exercise will be strictly indoors! Although the  socccer season here is still ongoing and the Socceroos come over in a month to play Oman in a world cup qualifier.

All in all we are still enjoying ourselves and the first Australian expat do we went to was an ANZAC day slap up meal at the Grand Hyatt.  Chef flown out from Australia, Australian themed food, lots of fun was had by all and a very late night that wrecked last weekend for us! This was the rather nice Australian lamb, with Omani dates.......

Fortunately so far the heat feels quite different to an Australian summer. At work on Wednesday I was reasonably comfortable outside in a suit, at 37 to 39 degrees. Add ten or so to that and there will be a re-assessment of my work dress!  I may even move to short sleeve shirts.

A couple of weeks ago we took off down the coast to Sawadi Beach and had a fabulous few hours, much of the time spent exploring a little island with a rebuilt 16c Portuguese fort ontop. A pic of the view from atop the fort follows! The fort itself has fabulous 360 degree views over the bay area and little islets that dot around it.  Seems you can't go far in Oman without running across a fortification of some kind.  Guess that really highlights the age of the country and their past as a maritime empire that the Portuguese sought to control. Any way there's a fair bit on our day out in Katrina's blog  - Mathilde's Marvelous Meanderings.